DEAR SAVVY SENIOR: I would like to get my 82-year-old mother, who lives alone, a home medical alert system with a panic button that she can push in case she falls or needs help. Can you recommend some good options to help me choose?
— Overwhelmed Daughter
DEAR OVERWHELMED: A good medical alert system is an affordable and effective tool that can help keep your mother safe, but with all the choices available today, choosing one can be quite confusing. Here are some tips that can help.
HOW THEY WORK
Medical alert systems are popular products for seniors who live alone. Leased for about $1 a day, these basic systems provide a wearable help button — usually in the form of a neck pendant or wristband — and a base station that connects to the home telephone line, or to a cellular network if no home phone is present. At the press of a button, your mom could call and talk to a trained operator through the system’s base station receiver, which works like a powerful speakerphone. The operator will find out what’s wrong and will notify family members, a friend, neighbor or emergency services, as needed.
In addition to the basic home systems, many companies today (for an additional fee) are also offering motion-sensitive pendants that can detect a fall and automatically call for help. There are also mobile medical alerts that work when your mom is away from home. Mobile alerts work like cellphones with GPS tracking capabilities. They allow your mom to talk and listen to the operator directly through the pendant button.
WHAT TO CONSIDER
Here are some things to look for to help you choose a quality system:
>> Extra help buttons: Most companies offer waterproof neck pendant and wristband help buttons, but some also offer wall-mounted buttons that can be placed near the floor in high-fall-risk areas in case your mom isn’t wearing her pendant.
>> Range: The base station should have a range of at least 400 feet so it can be activated from anywhere on your mom’s property.
>> Backup: Make sure the system has a battery backup in case of a power failure.
>> Monitoring: Make sure the response center is staffed with trained emergency operators who are in the U.S. and available on a 24-hour basis.
>> Contacts: Choose a company that provides multiple contact choices — from emergency services, to a friend or family member who lives nearby.
>> Certification: Find out whether the monitoring center has been certified by Underwriters Laboratories, a nonprofit safety and consulting company.
Here are some top options that offer both home and mobile alerts:
>> Bay Alarm Medical (fees start at $30 per month for a home landline system, bayalarmmedical.com, 877-522-9633)
>> Life Station ($30 a month, lifestation.com, 800-554-4600)
>> Medical Alert ($33 a month, medicalalert.com, 800-800-2537)
>> MobileHelp ($30 a month, mobilehelpnow.com, 800-992-0616)
>> Phillips Lifeline ($30 a month plus a $50 activation fee, lifelinesys.com, 855-681-5351)
For mobile medical alerts only, you should also see GreatCall’s Lively Mobile and Wearable (these cost $50 plus a $20-to-$35 monthly service fee, greatcall.com, 866-359-5606) and Consumer Cellular’s Ally ($150 plus $25 per month, consumercellular.com, 888-345-5509).
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.